How important can a constitution be when you cannot even find the original document?
That is the question that authorities in Kyrgyzstan appear to be asking as a ruse to downplay concerns over planned changes to the basic law.
The constitution in its current form was approved by referendum in June 2010 and ushered in a form of government intended to dilute the power of the presidency and hand more authority to parliament.
But a query by members of parliament about the location of the original copy of the document on October 19 has thrown up a bizarre mystery.
Justice Minister Jyldyz Mambetalieva responded that her office has a copy of 2010 constitution, but that the original is held by the presidential administration.
That was contradicted by Moldakun Abdyldayev, the presidential administration’s liaison to parliament.
“We assumed that it was with the Justice Ministry. Now the minister is confirming that there is no original. That raises the question: where is the original?” Abdyldayev told parliament.
Abdyldasev said he has seen an archived decree on the constitution — signed by Roza Otunbayeva, who served briefly as an interim president following the April 2010 revolution — and a draft of the document that was later adopted by referendum. But not an actual signed version of the constitution itself.
As confounding as it might seem, this means that none of the arguing parties in the constitutional debate can quite agree on what it is that is being subjected to amendment.
Farid Niyazov, head of President Almazbek Atambayev’s administration, told 24.kg news agency that although the law was approved by referendum, nobody ever quite got around to signing it.
“In any other country, of course, after the announcement of a public vote, the head of state should endorse the approved text,” he said. “But it so happens that this text has no signature.”
Omurbek Tekebayev, a leading member of the 2010 interim government and a lively critic of the proposed amendments, told Kloop.kg news website that this was all technical anyhow, since the document published in official newspapers and put to the referendum should be considered the definitive reference.
The issue arose during debates on the second reading of legislation to approve the holding of yet another referendum, planned for December 11, to amend the constitution anew.
One key provision of the reform would see the role of prime minister being bolstered at the expense of the parliament. This has raised suspicions that Atambayev, who is limited constitutionally to one presidential term ending in 2017, may be laying the grounds for his immediate entourage to retain a dominant grip over power. Atambayev has denied he has any such designs.
Another fix seen as insidious is one envisioning the introduction of loosely conceived “supreme state values” that would encompass individual human rights but also tag on concepts like “love of the Motherland,” “respect for the elderly” and “the accommodation of tradition and progress.” The ultimate goal of this aspect of the reform appears intended at chipping away at the individual human rights agenda that many governments in the post-Soviet space see as inimical to their model of authoritarian political development.
Despite the impasse over the location or even formal existence of the 2010 constitution, MPs on October 19 overwhelming approved (90 for, 14 against) the second reading of a bill to hold the December referendum. The third and final reading is normally considered a formality, so the road to the vote is now all but clear.